Conference paper Open Access

The Fire Fades: Navigating the End of the World in FromSoftware's Dark Souls

Stein, Eric

What is the role of play at the end of the world? As reports on the climate crisis become increasingly dire, we must ask ourselves what good it is to talk about games, and particularly those games that operate in a fantastic register. The question inevitably arises: why continue to play at all when the world is on fire around us? Indeed, as Emily Rose recently remarked in an article on RE:BIND, not only is the planet on the brink of collapse, but the game industry, as it currently operates, is complicit in many of the unsustainable human practices that have led us to this point. The “abstract theatre of leisure-crafting,” as Rose phrases it, is not innocent. So, then, why play? This study takes up these urgent questions through close readings of developer FromSoftware’s critically acclaimed Souls series of video games: Dark Souls (2011), Dark Souls II (2014), and Dark Souls III (2016). In these games, the end of the world drives each narrative, but is also the thematic support for the basic gameplay loop that organizes players’ traversals of each gameworld. It is the contention of this paper that the Souls trilogy mounts a radical critique of political, epistemological, and ontological regimes that desperately cling to the status quo, proposing in their stead a myriad of new forms of existence that might be able to thrive in and through the apocalypse. These alternatives are born of affinities and agencies entirely other to, and often directly opposed to, the powers that have led the present world to its doom, and through play, the Souls games invite their players to consider such ‘minor literatures’ as legitimate alternatives to that which claims to be the only legitimate source of authority. In the opening cinematic to Dark Souls, we are told that “the flames will fade, and only dark will remain,” but it is precisely in this darkness that a fecund plurality of potentialities is to be found.

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